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Seattle Reign prepare for long road trip after home-opener

The Reign remain relatively healthy heading into a three-game road span.

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5 min read

TUKWILA—Seattle Reign FC returned to training at Starfire Sports Complex on Wednesday afternoon with a lively session that involved all first-team players except Alana Cook and Veronica Latsko. They participated in some of the team's warm-up and passing exercises but did most of their work to the side during scrimmages.

Head coach Laura Harvey said that both were progressing well, but the team doesn't want to rush them back from their injuries. Unfortunately, Cook's knee has needed a bit more time to heal than originally expected.

"At this stage of the season, you never really want to push people too quickly. I think if it was the end of the season, we'd probably be moving at a faster pace with both of 'em. Alana's has definitely taken longer than anyone expected really. But I think we are at a point now where she's on the field and she's in training, so she's not far away."

Having a few days to reflect on the Reign's season opener, Harvey said her observations about the first match hadn't changed. She was happy with how the team looked in the attack, especially considering how little time they'd had together in training.

"I think we played some really good stuff at times throughout the game. We should have scored more goals than we did, but overall pleased."

When asked specifically about the four newcomers who made their Reign debut – Ji So-yun, Angharad James, Lily Woodham, and Emeri Adames – Harvey was quick to note how seamless their integration with the team looked.

"Whenever there are new people that come to the league and they're in a new team, it can always take time. I think it was great that it seemed quite seamless, but I've been in this league long enough to know that that could also be a one-off. So I think we've got to just keep working on stuff and getting everybody used to playing with each other, which I think is key. The fact that we have hardly trained together as a group, you wouldn't have known that going in. So I think there's loads of room for improvement for us, loads of ceiling above us to go and reach, which I think is the most exciting piece."

Three Stats: Seattle Reign vs. Washington Spirit
Looking at the data behind the Reign’s 1-0 home win to open the season.

One thing that worked well for Seattle in their home opener was the team's new formation – a 4-4-2 diamond.

Reign formation (Courtesy of Wyscout)

Reign fans should expect to see the club continue to use a similar formation, especially to start this season. One big reason for Harvey's departure from her preferred 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 is Megan Rapinoe's retirement. Aside from Adames, the team doesn't have many wide attacking options.

"I think when we naturally lost Pinoe, that was an area where I thought, 'Do we try and find a similar replacement or do we need to look at a bit of a shift in formation?' Especially with Emeri, we've gained someone who could play very similar to Pinoe, but I do think that this new formation suits a lot of our group and gives us flexibility throughout the year to change if and when needed."

This new 4-4-2 formation allows the team to have more numbers in the midfield – helping with possession – and push their attacking fullbacks higher up the field. It's also a more natural fit for forwards like Jordyn Huitema and Bethany Balcer, who operate more comfortably in and around the box.

Another player who looked comfortable in last weekend's match was Phoebe McClernon, who spoke with reporters after training about her contract extension through 2026. The 26-year-old defender said she feels really at home in Seattle and appreciated how much the team helped her through a back injury last season.

"I love where I live. My partner's here, I have so much support here, and I went through an injury here and it went as well as could be perceived. They're always tough, but I think that if you can come out on the other end of that still smiling, it's probably a pretty good place to be."

McClernon was also quick to point to the coaching staff for making her feel so supported and comfortable, which she said has contributed to her growth on the field.

"They're a super human-first coaching staff, so they recognize that you perform the best when you are feeling the most comfortable, when you're feeling the most supported. I think just being in an environment that encourages that and prioritizes that has been really, really great. And something that you can't find every team that you go up to."

After some gorgeous sunny days, which McClernon said she really needed, training was overcast and chilly – perhaps helping the team prepare for much cooler temperatures when they face off against the Chicago Red Stars on the road this weekend. The forecast calls for a chance of snow the day before and temperatures in the low 30s at kickoff. On top of the weather, Harvey knows they'll be facing a Red Stars side under new head coach Lorne Donaldson that is tough to break down.

"They're quite happy to defend because they feel that they can get you in transitional moments. I think they did a good job of that against Utah. Utah had a ton of the ball. They're quite patient in that as well, which I think is a really good trait when you've got the quality that they have. And they're organized and they look like they're hard to break down. It's also going to be ridiculously cold there, so I think it's going to be a tough game for us."

Other notes

  • Things haven't felt too different for the Reign at Starfire so far this year, as they haven't completed renovations that kicked into high gear after the Sounders moved out in February. The Reign now have a three-game road trip plus a FIFA break and won't be back at Lumen Field until April 21. They're using this time to finalize their renovations and hope to officially move into their new facilities, now vacated by the Sounders, later in April.
  • Jess Fishlock was a full participant in training. Her knock at the end of the match against the Spirit was not serious.
  • Lauren Barnes also participated fully in training. After an early knock in preseason, she looks ready to start this weekend.
  • Lily Woodham whipped in some dangerous and beautiful crosses during attacking exercises. She looks poised to earn another start this weekend.